The Myddvai Legend


A widow, who had an only son, was obliged, in consequence of the large

flocks she possessed, to send, under the care of her son, a portion of

her cattle to graze on the Black Mountain near a small lake called


One day the son perceived, to his great astonishment, a most beautiful

creature with flowing hair sitting on the unruffled surface of the lake

combing her tresses, the water serving
s a mirror. Suddenly she beheld

the young man standing on the brink of the lake with his eyes rivetted on

her, and unconsciously offering to herself the provision of barley bread

and cheese with which he had been provided when he left his home.

Bewildered by a feeling of love and admiration for the object before him,

he continued to hold out his hand towards the lady, who imperceptibly

glided near to him, but gently refused the offer of his provisions. He

attempted to touch her, but she eluded his grasp, saying

Cras dy fara;

Nid hawdd fy nala.

Hard baked is thy bread;

It is not easy to catch me.

She immediately dived under the water and disappeared, leaving the

love-stricken youth to return home a prey to disappointment and regret

that he had been unable to make further acquaintance with the lovely

maiden with whom he had desperately fallen in love.

On his return home he communicated to his mother the extraordinary

vision. She advised him to take some unbaked dough the next time in his

pocket, as there must have been some spell connected with the hard baked

bread, or Bara Cras, which prevented his catching the lady.

Next morning, before the sun was up, the young man was at the lake, not

for the purpose of looking after the cattle, but that he might again

witness the enchanting vision of the previous day. In vain did he glance

over the surface of the lake; nothing met his view, save the ripples

occasioned by a stiff breeze, and a dark cloud hung heavily on the summit

of the Van.

Hours passed on, the wind was hushed, the overhanging clouds had

vanished, when the youth was startled by seeing some of his mother's

cattle on the precipitous side of the acclivity, nearly on the opposite

side of the lake. As he was hastening away to rescue them from their

perilous position, the object of his search again appeared to him, and

seemed much more beautiful than when he first beheld her. His hand was

again held out to her, full of unbaked bread, which he offered to her

with an urgent proffer of his heart also, and vows of eternal attachment,

all of which were refused by her, saying

Llaith dy fara!

Ti ni fynna.

Unbaked is thy bread!

I will not have thee.

But the smiles that played upon her features as the lady vanished beneath

the waters forbade him to despair, and cheered him on his way home. His

aged parent was acquainted with his ill success, and she suggested that

his bread should the next time be but slightly baked, as most likely to

please the mysterious being.

Impelled by love, the youth left his mother's home early next morning.

He was soon near the margin of the lake impatiently awaiting the

reappearance of the lady. The sheep and goats browsed on the precipitous

sides of the Van, the cattle strayed amongst the rocks, rain and sunshine

came and passed away, unheeded by the youth who was wrapped up in looking

for the appearance of her who had stolen his heart. The sun was verging

towards the west, and the young man casting a sad look over the waters

ere departing homewards was astonished to see several cows walking along

its surface, and, what was more pleasing to his sight, the maiden

reappeared, even lovelier than ever. She approached the land and he

rushed to meet her in the water. A smile encouraged him to seize her

hand, and she accepted the moderately baked bread he offered her, and

after some persuasion she consented to become his wife, on condition that

they should live together until she received from him three blows without

a cause,

Tri ergyd diachos,

Three causeless blows,

when, should he ever happen to strike her three such blows, she would

leave him for ever. These conditions were readily and joyfully accepted.

Thus the Lady of the Lake became engaged to the young man, and having

loosed her hand for a moment she darted away and dived into the lake.

The grief of the lover at this disappearance of his affianced was such

that he determined to cast himself headlong into its unfathomed depths,

and thus end his life. As he was on the point of committing this rash

act, there emerged out of the lake two most beautiful ladies, accompanied

by a hoary-headed man of noble mien and extraordinary stature, but having

otherwise all the force and strength of youth. This man addressed the

youth, saying that, as he proposed to marry one of his daughters, he

consented to the union, provided the young man could distinguish which of

the two ladies before him was the object of his affections. This was no

easy task, as the maidens were perfect counterparts of each other.

Whilst the young man narrowly scanned the two ladies and failed to

perceive the least difference betwixt the two, one of them thrust her

foot a slight degree forward. The motion, simple as it was, did not

escape the observation of the youth, and he discovered a trifling

variation in the mode in which their sandals were tied. This at once put

an end to the dilemma, for he had on previous occasions noticed the

peculiarity of her shoe-tie, and he boldly took hold of her hand.

Thou hast chosen rightly, said the Father, be to her a kind and

faithful husband, and I will give her, as a dowry, as many sheep, cattle,

goats, and horses, as she can count of each without heaving or drawing in

her breath. But remember, that if you prove unkind to her at any time

and strike her three times without a cause, she shall return to me, and

shall bring all her stock with her.

Such was the marriage settlement, to which the young man gladly assented,

and the bride was desired to count the number of sheep she was to have.

She immediately adopted the mode of counting by fives, thus:--One, two,

three, four, five,--one, two, three, four, five; as many times as

possible in rapid succession, till her breath was exhausted. The same

process of reckoning had to determine the number of goats, cattle, and

horses, respectively; and in an instant the full number of each came out

of the lake, when called upon by the Father.

The young couple were then married, and went to reside at a farm called

Esgair Llaethdy, near Myddvai, where they lived in prosperity and

happiness for several years, and became the parents of three beautiful


Once upon a time there was a christening in the neighbourhood to which

the parents were invited. When the day arrived the wife appeared

reluctant to attend the christening, alleging that the distance was too

great for her to walk. Her husband told her to fetch one of the horses

from the field. I will, said she, if you will bring me my gloves

which I left in our house. He went for the gloves, and finding she had

not gone for the horse, he playfully slapped her shoulder with one of

them, saying dos, dos, go, go, when she reminded him of the terms

on which she consented to marry him, and warned him to be more cautious

in the future, as he had now given her one causeless blow.

On another occasion when they were together at a wedding and the

assembled guests were greatly enjoying themselves the wife burst into

tears and sobbed most piteously. Her husband touched her on the shoulder

and inquired the cause of her weeping; she said, Now people are entering

into trouble, and your troubles are likely to commence, as you have the

second time stricken me without a cause.

Years passed on, and their children had grown up, and were particularly

clever young men. Amidst so many worldly blessings the husband almost

forgot that only one causeless blow would destroy his prosperity.

Still he was watchful lest any trivial occurrence should take place which

his wife must regard as a breach of their marriage contract. She told

him that her affection for him was unabated, and warned him to be careful

lest through inadvertence he might give the last and only blow which, by

an unalterable destiny, over which she had no control, would separate

them for ever.

One day it happened that they went to a funeral together, where, in the

midst of mourning and grief at the house of the deceased, she appeared in

the gayest of spirits, and indulged in inconsiderate fits of laughter,

which so shocked her husband that he touched her, saying--Hush! hush!

don't laugh. She said that she laughed because people when they die go

out of trouble, and rising up, she went out of the house, saying, The

last blow has been struck, our marriage contract is broken, and at an

end. Farewell! Then she started off towards Esgair Llaethdy, where she

called her cattle and other stock together, each by name, not forgetting,

the little black calf which had been slaughtered and was suspended on

the hook, and away went the calf and all the stock, with the Lady across

Myddvai Mountain, and disappeared beneath the waters of the lake whence

the Lady had come. The four oxen that were ploughing departed, drawing

after them the plough, which made a furrow in the ground, and which

remains as a testimony of the truth of this story.

She is said to have appeared to her sons, and accosting Rhiwallon, her

firstborn, to have informed him that he was to be a benefactor to

mankind, through healing all manner of their diseases, and she furnished

him with prescriptions and instructions for the preservation of health.

Then, promising to meet him when her counsel was most needed, she

vanished. On several other occasions she met her sons, and pointed out

to them plants and herbs, and revealed to them their medicinal qualities

or virtues.

So ends the Myddvai Legend.

A variant of this tale appears in the form of a letter in the

Cambro-Briton, vol. ii, pp. 313-315. The editor prefaces the legend

with the remark that the tale acquires an additional interest from its

resemblance in one particular to a similar tradition current in Scotland,

wherein certain beasts, brought from a lake, as in this tale, play much

the same part as is here described. The volume of the Cambro-Briton

now referred to was published in 1821 and apparently the writer, who

calls himself Siencyn ab Tydvil, communicates an unwritten tradition

afloat in Carmarthenshire, for he does not tell us whence he obtained the

story. As the tale differs in some particulars from that already given,

I will transcribe it.